July 23, 2017
“You can’t unring a bell.” – David Foster Wallace, American novelist (1962-2008).
In today’s dog-eat-dog world of small business competition, pretty much anything and everything goes. To gain any sort of advantage you need all the information you can get your hands on, just to try to get a leg up on your competition and to get some sort of an edge.
For the most part, all of my previous columns were designed to help you in the limited amount of space I had to work with. I talked about paying attention to details, understanding various social media options, managing small business perceptions and small business realities, and I even explained why running a business is like fighting a war. I did my best to show you how to recognize and avoid wasting advertising and marketing dollars, I suggested how to get rid of obsolete business practices, I illustrated the benefits of government programs, I asked you if you were properly utilizing your employees, and I even tried to identify a magic bullet that would help you attain business success and satisfaction. In each case I gave you just enough information so that you could think about how the subject related to you, allowed you to draw your own conclusions and then apply the principles to your business and industry.
Now, even if you followed every example perfectly and created your own ideas from the suggestions that were put forth, unfortunately there would still be no guarantee for success, as there is something lurking out there that can kill your business instantly.
As much as the World Wide Web and social media Web sites can help your business, it can hurt your business too, and in a very bad way.
Whether you own a restaurant, a retail shop or even a service industry business like a hair salon or a law firm, a series of bad reviews can crush you like a grape and put you right out of business; unless, of course, you know what to do to combat the bad press.
With sites like Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor and Facebook all offering various types of customer reviews, it is crucial for small business owners and managers to be aware of what is being said about them online and address bad reviews immediately by stepping up and taking action.
And here’s why:
68% of customers trust opinions posted online. 88% of customers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Customers are more likely to share bad experiences than good ones. So while a bad review can be harmful, the silver lining here is twofold. First, positive reviews from customers can sometimes offset the bad reviews as 72% of consumers say positive reviews make them trust businesses more. And second, each site that offers this type of review service to its user base, also allows for the business to respond to comments. The worst thing in the world you can do is ignore the negative comments and bad press. By leaving it alone you are sending a terrible message that you do not care what your customers think. Each of these Web sites, and sites specific to your industry (like Open Table for the restaurant industry for example), should be monitored daily for both positive and negative comments.
By responding promptly to any harmful review, you are doing two positive things. One, you are showing the complaining customer that you actually care about what they have to say. And two, you are showing potential future customers that you are taking measures to improve your business as well as the overall customer experience. Remember, a lot of business has to do with solidifying relationships with your customer and building loyalty.
The frustrating part about online reviews, however, is that they also can include false statements and targeted attacks from your competitors, usually veiled as an anonymous poster. When faced with that challenge, the best thing to do is try to treat it as a legitimate complaint, even when you know it’s not, because trying to argue with a reviewer is a losing proposition, especially if you are trying to fight fire with fire, especially since you should be more concerned with impressing a potential future customer.
But bad customer reviews aren’t the only online hazards that can cripple your business.
There is an entire subculture of folks out there who believe social media is the great destroyer of society. And why shouldn’t they believe that? We’ve all heard stories of people losing their jobs because of their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts. Well, the same goes for businesses, except for a company or a brand, it’s a lot harder, if not impossible to bounce back.
For example, celebrity chef and cooking show host Paula Deen lost her job and was labeled a racist for a remark she made. While nobody in their right frame of mind would ever condone the comments she made, the impact probably wouldn’t have been so bad for her if not for social media. Thanks to Facebook, and to a lesser degree Twitter, because people simply wouldn’t allow the issue to subside, her brand was completely destroyed. Only now, three years later, is her brand starting to recover and make a comeback. But, unfortunately it will never be what it was and is only a matter of time before the story resurfaces if she approaches the level of popularity she previously had.
Similarly U.S. presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had to face all sorts of accusations on a wide range of topics that rose from their pasts.
While in the extreme example of Deen there was just too much negativity to overcome, for a small business, there are ways of minimizing old issues from rearing their ugly heads.
A tried and true method of restoring one’s image is an aggressive Search Engine Optimization (SEO) campaign. By putting a search engine marketing strategy in place that leverages positive content owned by you or a third party, this will help increase the ranking of positive pieces on your business and push any negative posts down in the results. Remember, when your business is Googled, what appears on the first two pages of search results are in many cases more important than what is on your Web site.
Perhaps it’s best to take the advice of Daniele Virgillito, a content strategist for Massive PR (massivealliance.com) a leader in the field of helping companies monitor, defend and restore their online brand reputation. Virgillito identifies what he calls the 10 Commandments of Online Reputation Management. They are: (1) Become well respected; (2) Be radically transparent; (3) Monitor what they are saying about you; (4) React quickly and politely; (5) Address criticism; (6) Treat your Google page 1 as your business card; (7) Understand your detractors; (8) Attack your illegitimate attackers; (9) Learn from your mistakes; and (10) Ask for help if necessary.